The Daily Telegraph

Syrian refugees in Denmark face threat of forced return

- By Abbie Cheeseman in Beirut

SYRIAN refugee Asmaa al-natoor never thought she would be comparing her adopted homeland of Denmark to the country she fled.

“He kills us with missiles directly,” she said of Bashar al-assad, Syria’s president. “But the Danish government is waging a psychologi­cal war.”

Ms al-natoor is one of dozens of Syrian refugees who have been told their temporary residency in Denmark has been revoked after the government declared it was safe for them to return to Damascus.

Ms al-natoor was encouraged to speak out after a fellow refugee, 61-yearold Akram Bathish, died of a heart attack just weeks after receiving notice from the immigratio­n services.

The letter was “instrument­al” in his death, according to his family.

Ms al-natoor said her husband has recently had a stroke in the face of deportatio­n. “I don’t know what’s going to happen if we get deported. Why would they open their doors and now close them in our faces after seven years?” Denmark’s unusual decision to send refugees home is seen by many as part of a rising trend of “immigrantb­ashing” in Danish politics.

Mette Frederikse­n, the prime minister, recently announced that Denmark’s goal is to receive “zero” asylum seekers.

Germany has ruled that criminals can be deported to Syria but Denmark is the first European country to say that regular refugees can be sent back.

“Syria is not a safe place and the fear many Syrians will now be experienci­ng that they may be forced to return to that country is dreadful,” said Steve Valdezsymo­nds of Amnesty Internatio­nal UK.

Denmark cannot forcibly return refugees while they do not have diplomatic relations with the Assad regime.

Instead, the government has given at least 94 people the chance to return “voluntaril­y” in return for cash. Those who refuse risk languishin­g indefinite­ly in a deportatio­n centre.

One letter sent to the refugees, seen by The Daily Telegraph, reads: “If you do not travel out of Denmark voluntaril­y, you can be sent to Syria.”

There is no mention that the government lacks the means to force them to leave, or the appeals process.

One 18-year-old, who fled Syria with his family nine years ago, has also been told he must go home despite his fears that he could be conscripte­d to Assad’s army or abducted by Islamic State as his father is a Christian.

Officials rejected his appeal, stating in a letter: “It is only your own presumptio­n that you risk abduction on a return to Syria.”

The high school student, who is now fluent in Danish and hoped to study medicine at university, said: “All of my dreams have just broken down, again. It’s like we’re living in a black hole.”

The Danish immigratio­n service was approached for comment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK